Target 11 investigates: Lottery scheme preys on seniors

by: Robin Taylor Updated:

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PITTSBURGH —

Con artists are calling assisted living centers and telling elderly residents they've won the lottery. The catch is that they have to wire money to collect their winnings. Target 11 Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor discovered it happened in Greensburg.

If it weren't for some very alert staff members at Redstone Highlands Senior Living Center in Westmoreland Count, a couple residents could have lost thousands of dollars to an old scheme.

"They have received these phone calls where they are winners of large sums of money or even a Mercedes," Kim Kelly, executive director of Redstone Highlands.

Here's the new twist. The caller arranges to have a cab pick the senior up so he or she can wire money from western union or a drug store.

Fortunately, the staff at Redstone Highlands figured out what was going on in time to stop it.

"The cab company and the local vendor called up to the building and said, 'Hey, you might want to check into this.' And we're like, 'We're already on it,'" said Kelly.

The money was supposed to be wired to Costa Rica. Police were notified, but there's not much they can do because the thieves aren't in the United States.

"We again saved her from losing thousands of dollars," said Kelly, who added that the calls have picked up in the past three weeks.

Studies show the elderly are more trusting, and more likely to believe what they hear, regardless of who it's coming from, making them an easy target.

"I think we're weakened. We're vulnerable because of our age," said Bernice Purnell, a Redstone Highlands resident.

"People think of people our age as being gullible, that we can easily be duped," said Ruth Manson, another resident.

Residents are being warned not to fall for these phone calls, no matter how enticing the offer.

"I'd probably hang up because I don't think you'd get something for nothing," said Gena Ewig, who is in her eighties.

Here at Target 11, I get more calls about phony sweepstakes or lottery schemes than anything else, and it's not just seniors who fall for them.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Don't ever wire money to a stranger, just hang up the phone.